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Something to do in Australia

In a desperate attempt to escape the doting grasp of my parents, I had seized the opportunity to travel to the Australian outback with my uncle. My parents had fussed over me, my mother crying about having to lose me for a whole month. She took me to get my nails manicured and insisted on buying new clothes. I had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes; it wasn’t that big of a deal, my going to Australia.
The first hour on the plane was exhilarating, but after 8 hours I was ready to get off. After three layovers, and several bus rides, my uncle announced our arrival. By that time, my hair was a mess, I had bags under my eyes, and I’d started having second thoughts.
I got off the bus in central Australia with a stoic and determined expression on my face. But then I caught sight of the aborigines. I hadn’t imagined they would look so fearsomely primitive, wearing skins and using crude tools. I felt as if I were stepping back in time. The aborigines stood in a cluster, umber skin crinkling around their eyes, caked in red mud, and wielding spears and sticks. I fought to keep a calm expression on my face, but their utterly timeless appearance shocked and unnerved me. My surprise at the sight of them was magnified by the hot and arid desert of central Australia. I felt like I’d entered a giant pizza oven and was being baked alive. It was flat as a pizza too. The only landmark was Ayers rock, or Uluru as it is called by the aborigines.
My uncle and I marched along behind the aborigines, him conversing easily in their native tongue, me looking awkward in my trendy city clothes and sweating by the gallon. When we reached the aboriginal home site, I was swept up in a gaggle of women who dragged me off to harvest dinner.

Our destination was a sparse grove of trees nearly a mile away. To me it felt like I had walked the distance of the earth, twice. I was hot and dusty, and very relieved when we stopped. I stood exhausted and sweating, watching the women. My city clothes were ragged and caked in dirt. The paint on my once-manicured nails was chipped. Strands of hair clung to my forehead and neck, the rest pulled back into a sloppy braid. Despite my disheveled appearance, and my exhaustion, I watched curiously as the group squatted by a rotting log. The women dug around in the wood with their fingers, pulling out large, white, marshmallow-like grubs, and dropping them in an earthen bowl. The grubs squirmed and squelched. I made a disgusted face; I wasn’t looking forward to dinner.

After gathering what the women deemed enough grubs for everyone, we headed back to camp. By the time we returned, the sun was setting. The men had built a small smokeless fire. We waited until the fire had died down a bit, and then tossed in some of the grubs. They hissed and sizzled and writhed around as they cooked. The women all gathered around. As soon as they spotted a grub that was slightly charred and crispy looking, but still plenty juicy, one would reach in with calloused fingers and snap it up, tossing it to the plate with the uncooked grubs. Screwing up my face in an attempt to look neutral, I only managed a semi-pained expression. I hoped maybe I could get away without dinner, but my hopes were dashed when, as an honor, they offered the grubs first to my uncle, and then to me. The woman holding the plate was old, her chocolate skin leathery and wrinkled, her deep brown eyes betraying amusement at my obvious discomfort. Her hair was white and wispy like a smoky halo. I gulped, looking at the bulbous, squirming, disgusting white things. I wanted to gag. The grub was the size of my finger, large and gooey. I lifted it towards my mouth, and paused looking around again. All eyes were on me. It would be rude to dawdle longer, I squeezed my eyes shut, and popped it in my mouth. I held it in my mouth a moment, not wanting to bite and taste the gushy insides. I must have looked like a gagging fish, because some of the children started giggling.
“Why she have such funny face?” chortled a little girl of about nine, hiding her gleaming teeth behind her hand as she whispered to her neighbor. I bit down. The skin was crisp as it exploded in my mouth and a gooey substance oozed between my teeth. My stomach heaved, and I swallowed quickly. I was offered more of the disgusting things, but declined, no matter how rude. I didn’t think I could force my self to choke down another one. The bowl was passed around, and after a minute, people lost interest in me and began conversing in quiet murmurs.
After the dinner ordeal, I sat a little away from the others, under the stars, my shorts and tank top stained red from the desert dirt. I thought of what I’d had to do that day. I felt the hard packed ground beneath me, and wished for my comfy water bed back in Paris. My stomach growled. I wished my parents had made me dinner, serving it with French bread, cheese, and wine. The cool breeze which now made the tufts of dry brush weave slowly back and forth gave me goose bumps. I could still taste the slimy earthiness of the witchetty grub, and spat trying to get rid of it. I sat there and stared at the moon which framed the haunting silhouette of Uluru, while the tribe told dreamtime stories around a small crackling fire. Some played the didgeridoo; it’s deep and undulating tones seeming to fill me completely, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. Everything felt so strange here. Tipping my head back, I stared up at the myriad of endless stars; so many uncountable twinkling mysteries. At least that was the same everywhere. Dwarfed by the thought of what I had gotten myself into, I lay tossing and turning, until exhaustion finally compelled me to sleep.




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lilyy said...
Nov. 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm:
Beautifully written. Keep writing, this could turn into a real talent. :) I loved it
 
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